Trekking through the election storm

‘The room, the gate, the hallway, the building – they all seemed to have shrunk in size and impact for me. Everything felt smaller.’

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MY YOUNGER brother and I arrived at a polling precinct in the Metro at around 6:15 in the morning on Monday, May 13. There weren’t many people yet. Laptops were placed on a long wooden table at the right wing of the elementary school building. Volunteers distributed pieces of paper where voters had to write their full name and birthday that served as references in determining their designated room numbers. It was smooth. I was hopeful and ecstatic because I’d get to practice my right to choose the future leaders of my beloved country, the Philippines.

Room 207. Cluster 404A. Second floor.

“Please prepare your ID if you have one with you,” one of the volunteers announced as he went out of the room, “it’s for easier processing.”

I checked my company ID inside my pocket with a blue lace. While I was waiting in line, I saw my name and my relatives’ names posted on the wall outside the classroom. I felt great that I was at the right location.

There were only eight of us waiting in line. I saw familiar faces: a former grade school teacher, a neighbor, an old classmate. It was as if I travelled back in time twenty years ago. The room, the gate, the hallway, the building – they all seemed to have shrunk in size and impact for me. Everything felt smaller.

After 2 minutes, the line started to move. The room had the capacity of taking in 12 voters simultaneously: 3 rows, 4 columns. Then, I presented my ID to the election officer.

Zenarosa, po,” I uttered. “Benre.

“Let’s check,” the officer said as she was scanning a binder with names in it. “There you are… please sign here, sir.”

And sign I did.

Like a dove that’s about to land on a pure, uncontaminated surface, I patiently examined the chamber and decided to sit at a corner at the lower right to avoid any distraction. I positioned the long folder to cover my ballot and I started to shade the small circle beside the name of my chosen candidates.

For senators, I only picked 5; for city councilors 2. I also voted for mayor and vice mayor and congressman and party list.

The marker wasn’t a regular ballpoint pen; it gave me an impression that it’s a pentel pen. The markings can be seen on the other side of the ballot. Is it normal? I asked myself. What if because of the intensity of the markings my votes become invalid?

It took me about 10 minutes to finish the whole selection process and scrutinize the ballot. But for some reason, my hands were shaking. I don’t know if it’s because of a cup of 3-in-1 coffee I sipped earlier that day, or it’s just because my whole being understands that what I was doing was so sacred and precious and crucial to nation-building and the fate of the future generation. That voting wasn’t a banal act, but if done solemnly can bring an enduring metamorphosis.

I carefully held the ballot with my two hands and headed towards the line for the Vote-Counting Machine (VCM). I made sure that the ballot didn’t have any fold or damage. But the voters who were ahead of me in the line experienced some troubles. The ballot of a man in his thirties was rejected by the VCM. The man tried to insert the ballot to the machine multiple times, but it wasn’t effective. Later they realized that his ballot was tainted with what looked like an ink at its top section that prevented the machine from accepting it. The officer told him that they’ll just take note of what happened in their minutes on a bond paper. Disheartened, the man hurriedly left. But they forgot to get his name.

Similar scenarios occurred to two other voters in the polling precinct. The VCM didn’t process their votes. Their ballots got stuck. It could be because of the quality of the paper, the other voters said. They speculated that the machine and the paper were incompatible. Receipts weren’t generated.

Frustration started to surface inside and outside the classroom. More and more people were arriving. We’re delayed. And people started to complain…

It’s around 6:40 AM. When it was my time to slip the ballot to the machine, I secretly prayed for my vote to be successfully read. I really wanted to cast my vote especially for party list. And it worked just fine. I reviewed the receipt and it showed the correct list of candidates I chose. I was grateful.

But it didn’t stop there.

While waiting outside the room for my brother to finish casting his vote, I saw senior citizens and PWDs going up and down the stairs.

“Lola, let me help you,” I told one of them. She was moving slowly, and it was evident that she was having a hard time. The episode pinched my heart.

 “Thank you, but I can manage,” she answered while going down one step at a time. She smiled at me. I let her be.

Weren’t the PWDs and senior citizens supposed to vote at the ground floor for it to be easier for them? Can you imagine being in their shoes at that moment? They just want to be active participants in our society. Why should we make it harder for them to do just that?

Later that day, I joined a party of passionate and vibrant trekkers and mountain climbers from Marikina City. I was on vacation leave. For 2 days and 1 night, we embarked on a journey towards Mt. Daraitan and Tinipak River in the heart of Sierra Madre in Tanay, Rizal. Most of the time during our trip, there was no mobile signal. I was clueless on what’s going in the elections. Ultimately, I turned off my phone.

On Tuesday night, while resting when I returned home, news and updates about the elections were everywhere.

As I dived deeper into the online conversations and headlines, three topics got my attention: “Ang bobo ng mga Pilipino”, “Nag-budots lang nanalo na?”, “Jejomar Binay fails to vote after ballot rejected by vote-counting machine.”

The third one brought me an epiphany. It was somehow similar to what happened to other voters in our precinct on the election day.

According to the Comelec’s resolution: “No replacement ballot shall be issued to a voter whose ballot is rejected by the VCM except if the rejection of the ballot is not due to the fault of the voter.” Clearly, it wasn’t the man’s fault that his ballot got rejected. He should have been issued a replacement ballot. But before he left, he wasn’t informed of this option. Definitely, there were lapses.

How about the defective SD cards? The substandard markers? And more importantly, the 7-hour delay in transmitting voting data into the transparency server?

If we want a more decent and impressive voter turnout in the next elections, the systems and processes we’re implementing should be revisited. We should also investigate the hardware and software we’re using and inquire if the budget allotted to the conduct of our elections is being spent to meet our ideals.

Filipinos deserve the best. If we want to elect the most deserving individuals in our midst for leadership positions and for the voting population to have greater confidence in our elections, the whole voting experience should be credible and dependable and transparent.

As of this writing, the partial and unofficial election results are at about 96%. We know we can do it faster and better. The glitches and maltreatment of some of our PWDs and senior citizens and below standard equipment are surmountable. Yes, our country’s facing so many trials. In order for us to spark real transformations and trek our way to the other side of the mountain, we should also go beyond ourselves and our expectations.

Every election symbolizes a new beginning, a revolutionary hope. Isn’t it intelligent and sensible to start change there?

This Is How You Lose Her In A Snap

‘Still, she’s beautiful. You wonder what her phone number is.’

IT STARTS with a silent stare. Yes, not on her, not on the one you’re in a relationship with, not on her eyes and lips and hair, not on the way she walks and carries her bag. It begins with the invasion of your heart of a foreign being you believe captures your imagination. What if I ask her out? What if I’m with her? Would I be happier? I’m tired of the current one. I’m bored. Is it time to move on? Her legs look great.

You tell yourself that it’s okay to look at the other woman passing along the streets. It isn’t the first time you see her. She’s on her way to work. Her attire says so. It’s a weekday anyway, and you’re just having coffee. It’s scorching hot. Earlier, your girl greeted you ‘Good morning, babe‘; you do not reply to her. Here you are about to pursue a new prospect. Everybody does that, you tell yourself. It’s as if you know every soul in the human population. You arrive at that generalization simply because it’s easier to justify what’s going on in your mind that way. The blank glimpse. Possibilities. You’re observing the world you’re in. It’s fascinating. Still, she’s beautiful. You wonder what her phone number is.

And you approach the stranger. Confidently. You’re wearing an enticing fragrance. It’s your lone chance. It might slip away, and you don’t want to have any regrets later.

You abandon your coffee you bought for two dollars. You tell her that she forgot something. She turns around and asks what it could be. There’s grin on your face, and you tell her the magic word: “Me.

Her face lights up to the novelty of the act. She finds it cute.

You ask her where she’s headed. For a moment, for the second time, in a span of minutes, you forget about your girl. You erase your vows, your promises, and the spirit contained in the inspired letters you wrote to win her years back. She was your dream then. Take note of ‘was.’

You go back to the current situation. The stranger smiles at you. She asks where you live, your work, your hobbies on weekends. You both love movies, but not just any movie. You love mystery films, investigative, those that oblige you to think. Your girl likes romantic – comedies. But you no longer care. It’s getting deeper.

There’s connection, a spark, or so you believe. You inquire about her number, and she willingly gives it you.

Where’s your phone?” she says.

Here it is,” you respond.

And you part ways. But, it doesn’t stop there.

For the next few months, you secretly communicate. The stranger and you. The other woman and you. Your girl follows the routine: cooks you breakfast, washes your clothes, and kisses you each morning and before you shut your eyes. These don’t mean anything to you anymore. Your body is with her, but your heart is trying to escape.

And escape you do. Little by little.

You no longer respond to your girl’s “I love you’s”. For you, her value depreciates every day you look at her. She senses it. She’s not dumb. She questions what’s going on. What’s wrong with me? What’s lacking? I’m educated and independent and intelligent, but again, am I not enough?

You think it’s okay to play around. Your girl confronts you, but you lie. Hundred times. Maybe thousands. You tell her that everything’s okay. You’re just tired from work. It’s your boss. Your colleagues. It’s the book. The series. The weather.

Until one day, your phone rings as it receives a new message. Curious, your girl unlocks it using your thumb. You’re still asleep. She reads the text message from the stranger. The sender is named ‘Babe.’ The text says, “I miss you.” She uncovers the truth. She scrolls the thread. It’s been going on for a long time. The puzzles in her mind vanish in an instant. You’re a cheater.

She sobs. Alone. In another room of your just furnished house.

She thinks of confronting you, of waking you up. She imagines hurting you physically and calling you a liar. But she chooses not to engage in such quarrel. She knows her worth and packs her things. She left.

You wake up with her no longer around. There is silence…

And weeks later, your fling with the other woman stops. There’s a simple misunderstanding, and she deserts you without any explanation. It’s miserable. While you’re in your room, the memories of your girl visit you. You ponder on her value in your life. But there’s nothing you can do about it now.

You never see her again.

‘The Little Prince’ from a region in my heart

‘His hope of coming back and correcting his wrong have always floated into the whole flow of the story which were so pure and innocent – acts that we sometimes associate with weakness.’

I WAS seven when I first met him. A fleck of dust besmeared his face; his curly, golden hair and stylish, scarlet ribbon bow tie were pictured to have been enslaved by the wind freely drifting from a corner of his planet scarcely bigger than himself; his pale green coat’s motif suggested it was of foreign origin – from another universe even; his vision casted into the unknown while standing upright next to what looked like a tiny, active volcano spewing smoke and fumes. He was frozen in time. Alone. On a book’s front cover.

Written by French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the thin, minuscule book was titled, “The Little Prince.” The story was about a pilot who was forced to land in the Sahara and encountered a mysterious young boy who claimed to be an extraterrestrial prince.

I intently stared at the book’s cover and paused for its strangeness. Then, I swiped the dust covering the little prince’s face with a piece of cloth. His eyes and nose and lips were minute dots or lines delicately plotted on a peculiar canvas. In a blink, a sensation ran through my veins like a river flowing tranquilly. It was as if he invited me in for an adventure – a black hole that came with a cathartic magnificence for an absence that has been lurking inside. There’s no way I could resist that.

You have to understand that I was never a book reader then. Just like most of the children my age in our neighborhood, I didn’t find pleasure in discovering fictional worlds created by minds I knew nothing about.

When the little prince had decided to leave his tiny planet to comprehend what love is after a rose with four thorns baffled his consciousness, he met a king, a conceited man, a tippler, a businessman, a lamplighter, a geographer, a fox, and an aviator.

During his stay on the seventh planet, on Earth, with the aviator, his loyalty to the lone rose on his planet has always been there. His hope of coming back and correcting his wrong have always floated into the whole flow of the story which were so pure and innocent – acts that we sometimes associate with weakness.

The little prince made me realize that there’s beauty and romance and dignity in self-discovery. He taught me that the best things in life can never be brought by the acquisition of what we’ve been working hard for and of what we’re expecting understandably well, but the silent arrival of the unseen, yes, of the mysterious gifts we have been unknowingly longing for which sometimes reveal themselves with a fleck of dust from an untouched region in our hearts. Because ultimately, what is essential is invisible to the eyes.

Truth be told, similar to what happened in our first encounter, I wasn’t expecting to see him about a month ago. I went on a visit to a bookstore closest to my workplace to inquire about the availability of a George Saunders book titled, “Tenth of December.” But there he was, stationed at a shelf near the entrance; something has changed in him. He was much bigger, his golden, curly hair was more radiant, and the intensity of the color of his coat was finer. He looked a little bit different from the one I had met one afternoon when I was seven who vanished when we moved in to our current home. A metamorphosis at its absolute form.

And as I was about to leave the bookstore, the cashier with a smile on her face asked me, “Sir, how about this one?” She waved in the air a copy of “The Little Prince” I had placed close to her station. Then, strangely, I found myself giving a ready answer I’ll never forget.

“I’ll keep him this time.”

On Love

‘And so, I hope you celebrate love with those who see you beyond your skin; those who look at you not just as a fleeting specimen in a universe that keeps on moving.’

IF YOU’RE single now and has no one to date with, it doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to feel lonely. It’s a state of mind. You’re unattached because you’re taking your time. You don’t want to settle. You want the one who’s yet to arrive to be The One. You’ve probably been hurt just recently, or you’ve never been in a relationship before, but that means you have an opportunity to discover yourself more – your gifts, your faults, your aspirations.

Some people dive into a relationship without a clear sense of who they are; they are befuddled on how to set boundaries; they’re clueless on what their expectations embody.

As you probably observed, conflict happens when miscommunication gets into the picture yes, when trust is tainted with infidelity and secrecy. Some of us think that a sensual message to a third-party won’t hurt the relationship; that it’s just a senseless game. But as days pass by, they’re succumbed to the claws of darkness, of forgetting all the words and promises they uttered. And one wonders how easy it is for them to move on; how convenient it is to jump from one fence to another.

Others think that everything’s going to be perfect. Their minds are still immature to the implications of saying “yes” to someone. There are those who give those they love access to everything they have even if they’re unprepared to its effects up to the point that they can no longer recognize who they are. They think of the other person as their world, and when that person commits a mistake, they treat their whole existence to be in vain. And that’s when they part ways. They can no longer endure the presence of who used to be their better half.

Because true love dwells to those who are willing to sacrifice and suffer. Nobody can expect each day to be light and tender and soothing. There will be bricks along the way and the only option is to get over them and to treat them not as fragments of hindrance, but as foundations to a long-lasting union.

To love is to give the other person a spacious, decent, and comfortable room to breathe, to be free to reach for their personal goals and full potential, and to have a voice on valuable causes as a contributor in building a brighter future for humanity. It may sound too momentous, mammoth-like even for some, but we do not exist to solely please one person and give their wants and needs. We’re here to unmask the greater reason of living. That day will come that all your frustrations will just be part of the past.

And so, I hope you celebrate love with those who see you beyond your skin; those who look at you not just as a fleeting specimen in a universe that keeps on moving. Because you deserve better and when the right person arrives, you’ll know it. Your heart will speak to them like you’ve known them before. And that moment is going to be so much more special than the maelstrom of flowers and chocolates presented on any given time of the day.

Beautiful things unfold in His time.

This Time Around, Trust That It Will Get Better

‘We’re in this puzzle of existence reaching out to the unknown, figuring out what makes sense, doing what’s good as dictated organically by our hearts.’

Lost in Traslacion

‘A merciful, kind, and loving God does not call that one loses oneself and physically suffer for the world to see or be a catalyst for his neighbors to be in agony.’

WHEN I was little, there’s a feast in our old neighborhood in the country’s financial capital that we tirelessly observed after the New Year celebration has died down.

Dressed in scarlet t-shirts with the supposed image of Jesus Christ at the center, jubilant, high-spirited men in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties talked about their strategies on how to get closer to the ‘Poon’ during the ‘Traslacion’- the transfer of the black image of Jesus Christ from San Nicolas de Tolentino in Intramuros to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo in Manila.

“You should be the lead since you’re the strongest” one of them said.

“What if we line up this way?” another one added. “Will this work?”

It was intense. Such mood enraptured my imagination. It was as if they’d go into a war like seasoned soldiers only that they’re not allowed to bring anything with them. And yes, no slippers and shoes on.

I expressed my desire to join the euphoria but I was turned-down right away. I was only seven years old.

“It’s not for children” Mang Kaloy said, who’s one of their most vocal leaders. “Just play basketball.”

On the day of the festivity, the footages of the coverage of news organizations disturbed me when I saw them the first time.

Cavalcade of devotees. Wiping of the cross or foot of the image with a cloth. Shouts. Cries. Emergency. Difficulty in breathing. Heart attack. Stretchers. Casualties. Death.

Chaos was all over. Everybody wanted to have a grip of the cord of Black Nazarene. And then, as my mind wandered, I got lost. Is this what Catholic faith looks like? Is this what God wants to happen?

If we’ll look at the Traslacion 2018 data, one devotee died and as many as eight hundred were injured. Can’t you imagine the total number of casualties since this activity started? These may just be mere figures for some, but these require a closer examination.

When our youngest brother told me four years ago that he’d continue the devotion of my deceased father to the Black Nazarene, a hollow deep inside me resurfaced into my consciousness. Suddenly, my childhood horrors to this brutal affair all came back in my memory like a boomerang that successfully stitched all the gaps of the years that have elapsed.

“Isn’t it too dangerous?” I told him. “Can you just not join them?”

“No, kuya” my brother said. “It’s for tatay.”

But is it biblical?

In Deuteronomy 5:7-9 (King James Version), it says: “Thou shalt have none other gods before me. Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,.”

If the main basis of the Catholic faith is the Bible, why then are they continuously transgressing such commandment? Clearly, the Black Nazarene is a graven image or an idol as described by the holy scriptures.

Or at least, can’t the leadership of the Catholic church in our country impose regulations and guidelines to its members for a safer execution of ‘Traslacion’? If the everyday challenge of riding our trains can be controlled, a once-a-year event such as this can be solved.

In an ABS-CBN News report dated January 9, 2018, in relation to the statements given by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, it stated: “’May our participation in the different activities during the feast lead us in deeply knowing Jesus, Tagle was quoted as saying by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) News on Monday. Reflecting on this year’s theme ‘Black Nazarene: The way, the truth, and the life’, he also called on the faithful take a closer look at Christ. ‘He is the way to the father. He is the truth that we’ve been looking for. He is the one who can give us and the society life.’”

In the end, we should as a society search for a better way. We should search for truth and practice our faith without compromising others. We can’t just be silent observers of an annual savage religious activity where millions of lives are on the line. For our relatives, for our friends, and for our fellowmen. A merciful, kind, and loving God does not call that one loses oneself and physically suffer for the world to see or be a catalyst for his neighbors to be in agony.

Let’s preserve life and don’t let the scarlet shirts the barefooted devotees are wearing be their last.

In search of solace

‘You’re reminded that this life is just a fleeting illusion; that you’re a humble traveler; and that this may come to an end in a snap. Today, you’re a towering figure of physique and fitness; tomorrow could be a different story. It’s not promised.’

I STARED at it for about five minutes yesterday at one in the morning. An untitled painting that measures roughly 4 feet by 3, it was displayed on a private hospital’s wall on the third floor with a maelstrom of kaleidoscopic koi of divergent sizes swimming around an imaginary cylinder clockwise under a dark blue water. The artwork was strangely cut into half vertically and was hanging slightly slanted 15 degrees to the right. The others which boasted abstract flashes of colors and astronomic designs stationed at different sections of the corridor were not presented the same way. I was absorbed and drawn by it; its peculiarity intrigued me.

I was all alone, wide awake, sitting on a brown, foamy bench outside the capacious visitors’ room, where my mom was sleeping, just ten feet away from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). The breeze was frigid; it was raining outside. I was waiting for the doctor to come out of the ICU to check for an update on one of my brothers’ condition. He had a mild stroke while sharing a meal with his own family in their house in Cavite City, south of Manila. Coincidentally, I was on a three-day vacation leave for my birthday. But how would you celebrate your birthday knowing that your family is amid a crisis?

 “Kuya Jun Jun is in the hospital” my youngest brother Ronnel said. 

“Why?” I uttered. “What happened?”

“High blood, probably” he said. “He had seizure.” In a heartbeat, my mother and I swiftly stuffed our bags with clothes and toiletries like soldiers about to engage in a daring hunt in a deserted forest. 

It must be very serious, I said to myself.

“To a hospital in General Trias, Cavite” I told the first cab driver who halted outside our small, white gate when he inquired where we’re headed at around ten on a Sunday evening. “Please, it’s an emergency, sir.”

“I’m not going south” he answered. And just like that with one of the side windows still half-open, he hastily left.

A huge weight of our exasperation and distress vanished when the next cab driver accepted our pleas. He had brought us to a terminal in Pasay City where we instantly found a bus that took us to our destination.

While travelling, thoughts came rushing on my mind like bolts of lightning in a stormy sky: it’s kuya Jun Jun and our memories together. Yes, our late-night conversations about religion, spirituality, wisdom, mysteries, science and technology, work. His brilliance and depth on a range of topics is impeccable. Tears abruptly rolled down my face. My mother did not witness it. 

When we arrived at the hospital, my mother and I were met with stories on what had transpired earlier that day. Plates flying in the air. Chicken tinola splattering all over. Convulsion. Lips turning black. Eyes moving involuntarily. Wailing children. Panic. Chaos.

But Emergency Rooms, ICUs, Dialysis Centers, and others put everything in perspective. In those moments that you’re encapsulated by impenetrable brick structures painted white all over, everything boils down to that quiet conversation between you and God. The rest of the universe becomes irrelevant: traffic and scandals on EDSA, inflation, MRT woes, #MeToo, possibilities with the person you admire most, child abuse, fake news, typhoons, President Duterte, war on drugs, Facebook and Instagram, poverty, corruption, politics, education, South West Monsoon, career aspirations, a taxicab’s plate number. You forget about them like transitory slides in your memory not to invalidate their value but to solve and face what’s urgent. Maybe, it’s the brain’s natural response in emergency situations. 

You’ve probably been there before. You asked why and wondered why it all happened. Yes, why it had to be you or your family.

You know all the answers to these inquiries by heart, but still, there’s a strange, ineluctable sensation when you’re amid it all – existing, breathing, and convincing yourself to be brave in the challenge given to you. You’re reminded that this life is just a fleeting illusion; that you’re a humble traveler; and that this may come to an end in a snap. Today, you’re a towering figure of physique and fitness; tomorrow could be a different story. It’s not promised.

You hope. You say your prayer without anybody noticing. You reach out to a higher being in spite of all your flaws, faults, and shortcomings, Because the situation is beyond the grasp of your hands, of your humanity, of everyone who knows you.

Then, you pause. You can see the minute, fine details. Paths become clearer. Because you believe that everything happens for a reason. You try to make sense of the test you’re faced with. With the waves of life arriving from every direction, it’s facile to forget the essence of one’s existence. Sometimes, in order for us to be reawakened and to reevaluate our decisions, our steps, and our mindset, inexplicable events have to transpire. And right there, in the mist of confusion, doubts, and tears, is where we can only genuinely ruminate what we’re made of.

In the hit thriller movie, A Quiet Place, a family must live life in silence while hiding from sightless extraterrestrial creatures with hypersensitive hearing, indestructible armored skin and attack anything that makes noise. In parallel to the reality, there are monsters in life that we have to deal with whether we like them or not. We have no idea how they look like, their form, or how they would affect us, but to survive and get through them, we have to stick with our principles and with our loved ones as a unit with trust, courage, and faith. 

In the end, after I had convinced myself to stand in front of the painting and equably fixed it in its place, the doctor informed me that kuya was no longer in the critical state. I expeditiously thanked God for his help and mercy. Then, I took a second look at the painting and discovered that there was a total of twenty-eight kaleidoscopic koi swimming around the imaginary cylinder. To my astonishment, it’s the same number of years I just turned to carry across my name on a frigid morning on my birthday. A coincidence? I refuse to think so. For me, it’s an incalculable gift sent from heaven.

In my grief, I found solace.